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Security over freedom?

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted February 11, 2002

The Olympic games are underway and there are more American troops in Utah than in Afghanistan. Utah's Governor Mike Leavitt was asked when his state could return to normal. He hedged on the issue. He said right now the people of Utah recognize the need for greater security. He added that if President Bush is successful in his war against terrorists then perhaps in two years America might begin to return to, in the Governor's words, "a sort of normalcy." Then he added that in some ways America will never be the same.

Unfortunately, the Governor is right. It isn't just the number of troops and police from 26 different agencies which have turned Utah into a semi-police state that is of concern, but the hundreds of cameras and face recognition technology which have been deployed without the consent of the governed.

Interviews of attendees suggest that people from all over the country readily accept more security in exchange for a loss of freedom. What is particularly troubling is the ready acceptance of all levels of police state style activities by average Americans. Granted, if the United States experienced something akin to the terrorist attack nearly 30 years ago at the summer Olympic Games in Munich, there would be Hell to pay. Any politician who didn't take steps for maximum security would be thrown out of office. Mindful of this, President Bush, Governor Leavitt and every politician up and down the scale approved more and more expenditures for more and more security without the blink of an eye. One visit by Attorney General John Ashcroft caused security expenditures to increase by $100 million.

The question for Americans to determine is precisely what is the proper balance between security and liberty. If we get through the Olympics without incident and the semi-police state effectively dissolves, then perhaps we can conclude that the effort was worth it. This was a one time event and has to be seen as such.

On the other hand, if significant elements of the semi-police state remain, if those cameras aren't dismantled, if face recognition technology is accepted by ordinary citizens, then America will have lost our liberty big time.

Surveys of citizens under thirty demonstrate that they have little or no understanding of key elements of the Constitution. The first, second and fourth amendments to the Constitution are completely misunderstood. You don't have to be a card-carrying member of the ACLU (which I most certainly am not) to be alarmed at this development, a product of our dumbed-down public school system. These amendments, which have been used by the left, are not just for the ACLU. They are for all of us.

If we as a society fail to understand the concept of unreasonable search and seizure, for example, then we will soon have a government which will exercise power against its citizens as many governments in the world do so now. Chinese citizens have no rights when the government is determined to go after them.

The mechanisms are all in place for the US government to go after its citizens. The government simply has to brand the likes of us who dissent from its policies as potential terrorists. Do I think that George Bush would ever do this? I do not. Do I think that a subsequent liberal government would do so? I most certainly do.

House Republicans managed to get a sunset clause in the anti-terrorist legislation which many of us regard as dangerous. At the end of four years, Congress gets to review the legislation and to vote up or down on continuing key provisions. That is the amount of time we have to educate our population on the merits of the Constitution. If we succeed, then there will be pressure on the Congress to vote the dangerous parts of the anti-terrorist legislation down. Then we will return to normalcy. If we fail, then the populace will demand security over freedom. Then surely we will have lost our Constitution and the freedoms that go with it. My fellow citizens, the clock is ticking.

Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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